Louisiana wastes money on TOPS by funding education for students with little accomplishment who are statistically more likely to drop out. Students should take out loans from the state for school, and the loans should be paid by the state if they meet TOPS requirements after high school, throughout their undergraduate experience and after graduating. This would ensure that TOPS funds are beneficial for the state by only funding students who complete their education.
Instead of cutting or terminating TOPS like politicians continuously suggest, the state needs to stop wasting funds on average or below average students and provide funding for superb students who are more likely to be successful in obtaining a degree.
Students should not be allowed to take out loans through private lenders with ridiculous interest rates. Socioeconomic factors require a large percentage of students to obtain money through student loans to get through school. In 2015, 41.2 percent of students registered as financially independent in the state of Louisiana. These students are forced to take out private loans with absurd interest rates that leave them in unforgiving student loan debt for years after graduating.
Since 2006, the total number of TOPS scholarships given to students totaled 169,744. A total of 6,383 TOPS awards were cancelled due to student resignation. In addition, 7,724 awards were cancelled due to non-continuous enrollment. This totals 14,107 awards cancelled due to students dropping out. This is a complete waste of taxpayer money.
The University’s retention rate is 83 percent after freshman year. The average retention rate for students returning after freshman year in Louisiana is 68 percent.
Though LSU has the best retention in the state, 54.5 percent of TOPS awards go to students studying at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. UL’s freshman retention rate averaged 75 percent, lagging behind the University’s 83 percent. Despite this, UL receives the most funds awarded by TOPS from the state, beating the University’s percentage of 33 percent of the TOPS award.
Only 22.8 percent of college students meet the TOPS Honors requirements. Of this percentage, 45.5 percent of these students attend the University. The University’s ACT requirement for admission is lower than UL’s, yet the University has a higher percentage of students receiving the highest level of TOPS.
The standards to receive TOPS Opportunity are completely subpar and outright embarrassing for Louisiana. Students need to have a score of 20 on their ACT and have a high school GPA of a 2.5. The average national ACT score for the graduating class of 2017 was a 21, meaning Louisiana expunges thousands of dollars from taxpayer money to students who are considered below average in the nation.
The average ACT score in Louisiana in 2018 is a 19.2, almost two points below the national average. In the spring of 2018, the students that met these requirements received $3,731.49. Students who met the requirements for TOPS Honors, the highest level of TOPS, only received $400 more per year than those at the lowest level.
In total, 50.8 percent of students receiving TOPS are receiving the award at the lowest level. The state is allocating the majority of this fund to students with little achievement detaining insurance of the completion of their education.
Less money should be given to students who meet the average requirements for the lowest level of this award and students in the TOPS Honors category should receive compensation from the state on costs pertaining to their education, such as books.
If the TOPS fund became a loan forgiveness program for students who finish with a degree, the state would save funds from being wasted on college dropouts. The state could reallocate these extra funds to successful, above average students who should receive more funding for their academic achievement.
If Louisiana raised the requirements by only awarding TOPS to the two highest levels and only allocated money after the completion of students’ degree programs, the state would ensure that the award would provide beneficial outcomes.
The second level of TOPS, TOPS Performance, requires students to have scored a minimum of a 23 on the ACT and a high school GPA of a 3.0. The TOPS Performance requirements are very attainable and fair — these prerequisite scores should become the minimum for students wishing to obtain state funds for their education.
TOPS is a program founded with good intentions, but it has become a method of waste Louisiana cannot afford. The state should allocate money only after students receive their degrees.
Britany Diefenderfer is a 21-year old English Literature junior from Thibodaux, Louisiana.